Archive for May, 2010

The value of sadness

May 27, 2010

Like you, I’ve always wanted to be happy.

And sometimes I am, but I’m often too busy thinking about other ways to be happy that I forget that I feel grateful and amazed.

There’s been quite a lot of research done lately on what happiness is. It’s apparently not money, beauty or power (though I find that a little hard to happily believe). It certainly has something to do with accomplishments; they seem to provide some padding, for a while anyway.

And then there’s the Buddhist happiness that is acceptance of all things without too much analysis and emotion. I can manage this kind of happiness for an hour or two, at best. But what a couple of hours they are!

It’s been hard to be happy these past few months; the financial crisis and the oil spill alone can make me seethe with anger at our stupidity. And Fabulous Philip’s death…well, it just hurts in places I can’t even describe.

So here’s to allowing ourselves to be truly unhappy. There’s evidence that it’s just what we might need.

For those of you who can stomach this (and I don’t believe some of you can), here’s a video of Ohio dairy farm workers torturing cows with relish and rage.  Many Huffpost commenters have heartened me and softened the experience of watching the video with the knowledge that there are real fighters out there. 

But for tonight, I’m unhappy.

And who knows? Maybe something good will come from it.

I can assure you of one thing: the sirloin steak in my fridge is for dear hubbie.

I’m having Japanese-style spinach salad and home-made french fries. It will do nothing for the cows, but I think I’ll feel just a little bit happier.

Warning: Catherine and Mum—-don’t watch!


Fabulous Philip Paris: 1962-2010

May 20, 2010

Philip Paris, a brother in all but birth and name, died peacefully at 4:15 this morning after suffering from a neurological disorder that progressively destroys the body’s organs.   

Philip began chipping away at our hearts over 40 years ago in French Catholic elementary school. He revelled in the company of spirited and funny girls and the Moriarty family had four of them.   

He joined our dance group, becoming one of the few boys who would subject themselves to ethnic dance. 

I’ve often thought that at some point in his childhood, Philip made a decision: if he couldn’t fit in with the bully boys of the world, he would become fabulous. And he did just that.  

Our home would eventually become his home. He even managed to win over our dad, Ned, but for Mum, there wasn’t much persuasion required. The two of them would ultimately become the dearest of friends.

Mum has often said that Philip’s genius is his originality. He was brilliantly, sometimes devastatingly,  funny; he seemed to know that the absurdity of life and human relationships could only be processed through humour. 

He took the time to truly understand those around him with a depth and accuracy that stunned. For me, this was Philip’s gift to the world–his generosity of insight.   

Even as my sister, Catherine, read Philip the messages sent from us all a few days before he died, amid the heaving sobs, there was laughter. He said that each person’s message reflected the characters he’d come to know.    

A few months ago, when walking along the seawall with Oscar, a powerful thought struck me as I gently cried: he was always there!

When his own father died suddenly of a heart-attack in his late-forties, Philip immediately appeared on our couch looking for comfort from his second family.

When Frank and I married in the Cotswolds in England, Philip appeared on the wedding day carrying a live tree that he’d bought at a London market that morning.  

When Frank died suddenly at 40, my mum and sister, Catherine, came to my office to take me home. Philip was at the house when we arrived. 

At one point, I said, “will we ever get over this?” and Catherine responded,”but it’s only been two hours!” I’ll never forget Philip, keeled over in laughter in his dark suit in the hot sun. There was nothing for me to do but join in.  

At Frank’s funeral service, there he was again, right in front of me as I spoke the most difficult and important words of my life. We laughed together, later that evening, at his proposition of a business venture for the two of us. I would compose eulogies and he would do the catering and flowers.

We lost our father 3 years ago after a long illness; he died at home with all of us surrounding him. When the suits came to take his body away, Philip held me tight as I sobbed in his arms, unashamed and unrestrained.

The next morning, he was there, again, offering us the finest baked goods for our breakfast. And then off he’d go, on one errand or another required for the memorial service. 

Our dear friends, Mark and Alison, quickly became part of Phil’s fan club. Alison’s mother, May, then in her 70’s, would light up when Philip entered the room.

Philip and Clare spent a weekend on Mark’s powerboat “The Midnite Rambler.” Alison and Philip bonded into the wee hours of the morning polishing everything off, including the  B & B meant to last many more voyages. Philip and Alison adored each other from then on.

When Jongho and I married, Philip welcomed him with grace and humour. I remember one family dinner, Philip told my sister, Catherine, that he wasn’t feeling up to entertaining everyone tonight, as was naturally expected. 

He said in his usual dramatic fashion that it wasn’t fair that he had to be on  just because we needed him to be and because Jongho had fabulous hair. But, you guessed it, he showed up and rose up with his usual flair.    

Catherine and Philip had a long history of painfully loving friendship. In typical Catherine and Philip style, he was her man of honour at her wedding in my parents’ garden. 

Though this was a serious, adult affair, I couldn’t help wishing that the  two of them would break out in spontaneous dance to John Travolta’s and Olivia Newton John’s “Summer Lovin,’ something they were known to do after our famous family dinners.  

Clare and Philip enjoyed a calmer, gentler friendship, one typical of caring, devoted siblings. Philip’s was the voice of a sensitive, sometimes tortured soul, Clare’s the voice of reason and moderation. And there was always love. 

When Sarah was in elementary school, Philip thought her the prettiest girl around. He vowed to one day marry her.   

But there would be no wedding of any kind for Philip. His lot was to jet across the continents with style, make remarkable entrances and exits, counsel us aesthetically challenged beings on matters of taste, leaving behind him a wake of wit and wisdom.

Philip was a devoted, involved uncle to Joseph and Coco. He was their uncle P, their confidant, their friend. Faced with his coming death, Philip’s greatest regret was not being around to see these fine teenagers grow into even finer adults. His sister, Catherine and brother-in-law, Brent, raised these two with intelligence and care. And Philip wasn’t one to hold back advice on how things should be done.  

My own grief today is for what Philip endured—the failing body, the dingey hospital room, the bad food that he couldn’t eat anyway, and the even worse decor.   

It’s also for those in his family and the two sisters in mine who did the emotional heavy lifting by sitting with him, holding his hand, listening to him and ultimately finding the words and strength to say their very last good-byes as tears fell down his face.  

Today, the stories of these devastating and beautiful farewells are almost too much for me to bear. They carry me to my own memories of ineffable sadness. 

But stories are all we have left.

And there will be thousands to come, as we nurture the story of his extraordinary life—a final gift to our, dear and fabulous Philip.    

If there are angels out there, I suspect the fanfare for Philip will be something truly grand. I can just see him now, ordering the celestial staff about and re-arranging the goblets and golden plates in the name of perfection and beauty. 

We all know one thing for certain: there will never be another Philip.

And something tells me that this was his plan all along.

Philip in Palm Springs with my family

Here’s one for the love cynics!

May 16, 2010

When I was a child, I told my mother that I wanted a monkey for my birthday.

She told me that a monkey would be very dirty and stinky; I told her that I’d keep it in my closet and clean him regularly (even though I couldn’t even keep my room clean)..

Whenever I visit zoos (Germany’s are superb), I find it difficult to pull myself away from the gorillas and the orangutans. In the Stuttgart zoo, I howled with laughter as an angry male orangutan hurled garbage at us.

And none of us will forget my auntie and cousin visiting from England who were red-faced with laughter as a monkey pleasured himself for the crowd.

This video of a reunion between a researcher and a freed gorilla has already made my day.

Banning the burqa: is there wiggle room?

May 14, 2010

There’s probably plenty of wiggle room inside a burqa; the problem is there’s no room outside of it.

It’s pretty hard not to be horrified by this so-called religious mini-prison, no matter how much “it’s their  culture” logic you apply. But what about the French attempt to ban all religious symbols? It would seem this kind of overkill idealist attempt would actually hurt the more reasonable AND practical one that might do some good. 

Feminists have been accused of abandoning their global cause to defend the rights of women for the safer, multi-cultural approach, of late.  I also accuse.  

But I’ve steered clear of the so-called headscarf debate, mostly because it’s just too uncomfortable.

Seeing four young Iranian women in headscarves and lipstick cheering for Stephen Colbert, directly in front of me (blocking my view, mind you) during the Olympics, warmed my jaded heart. Surely, no decent society wants to go after them. They were sweet, annoying teenagers talking about boys and the popular girls—just like I did. And they were full of joy and excitement at seeing a pop-culture icon in their city.

But the burqa is as bit different, don’t you think? There’s an obvious argument to me made that no woman would consciously subject herself to this living hell. But then, there are those who would argue that it’s their choice, whether religious or cultural, and that it’s not our business (play that tape through, if you dare!)

What if my religion allowed for all possible physical, sexual and psychological control over my body? Is this merely religion, culture, or a crime?

It has to be a crime at some point, don’t you think? And, of course, that point will never please everyone.

Here’s an interesting Huffpost article on why the burqa should not be banned. What I found more interesting was the commentary that follows. It seems odd that the most intelligent discussions take place on the religious section of the Post. 

I’d love to hear what you all think about this. I’m a bit baffled!

Remember the Olympics?

May 11, 2010

Poor yourselves your poison, take a few minutes and remember!


Global Financial Meltdown for Dummies (like me!)

May 11, 2010

When my little sister, Clare, was about 4 years old,  she believed that if she closed her eyes, no one could see her. 

This is my reaction to the global financial meltdown (or “correction,” if you prefer). If I don’t read about it and try to understand it, then it’s not really there.  

But I’m struck by the similarities between the market woes and my own ideas about money over the past 25 years or so. It feels so familiar and condemning.  

For those people who managed money well even during the crazy years of consumerist celebration, I salute you.   

And for those of us who succumbed to the spending and credit spirit of the times—I understand you.

Here’s a not-boring-at-all summary by CBC’s Neil McDonald on how the European “fat” economy fits into our own financial future. It’s a good, painless read.

On Mother’s Day and Immigrants

May 8, 2010

It’s nothing new that when the economy tanks and everyone is scared, people like to blame someone.

The Nazis blamed the Jews, the Gypsies, the homosexuals, the unemployed, the socialists. Jerry Falwell blamed the feminists, liberals and homosexuals for 9/11. And now, it’s just gotta’ be the immigrants in the US who are stealing all the good jobs from hard-working Americans who now want their country back. 

An ex-boyfriend of mine once said to me “You know, when you’re hurt, you tend to blame.” Obviously, I haven’t been able to forget that line, partly because it’s just so interesting and partly because it’s true–or as I’d like to think, it used to be true. 

Here’s Bill Maher telling it like it is about those dangerous immigrants who hike up hills daily to clean mansions (and yes, he actually offers them rides!).

Semana Horribilis: didn’t this week suck?

May 8, 2010

The collapse of the Greek economy, which is hugely important but it feels far away (for now), the Louisiana oil spill that’s way more important than most of us probably want to know, the collapse of world markets because of what’s happening in Greece and what’s feared will happen next, the emotional aftermath of the realization that unchecked bankers played casino owners with American’s “wagers,” the Tea-Baggers down South shouting “Give us our country back!”—–made for one tough week!

And then the grey whale of doom filled with Blackhawk spirit entered my neighbourhood. I immediately imagined a headline: “And the grey whale brings the Canucks home!” It was then that I knew; this whale was not meant for us.

But nothing could have prepared me for tonight’s game—terrible in so many ways, including the sentimenatal and compassionate. Shakespeare’s sad plays were never so sad!      

On a lighter note, a friend who’s been the only brother we’ve ever known, is losing his big old battle against death. Of course he’s too old a soul to see it as a battle. Only young and  healthy people think that way!

Yes, it was a shitty week. And obviously, spirits are not high.

But then, again, things could be worse.

Hugs to mothers.

Re-imagining high school as a geek

May 7, 2010

For me, high school was not so much a  magical time of budding curiosity and creativity as it was a constant struggle not to completely stifle myself. 

Being popular (didn’t you just hate that word?) trumped grades, sports, and, of course, art. In my crowd, it was out of the question to fall for a guy who played in the band, worked on the annual, or God forbid, performed in musicals. 

The saddest part of all this is the passion and talent that  went to waste–the would-be singer or dancer or writer or artist lost in an adolescent fog of misplaced loyalty. Ah, those were the days. 

Now, I’m not bitter; I try hard not to be bitter. But since I started watching Glee, I’ve found myself wondering what might have happened in the anti-establishment 1970’s if what it meant to be cool was different. What if belonging to a Glee Club with a terrifically cool but unjaded teacher was the ultimate teenage dream?

The only cheese in this show is conscious. It’s politically incorrect but it never approaches dark, cynical humour. The sympathy is always with the kids; the screwballs, losers, football players and cheerleaders are all uniquely vulnerable. And the flashy, highly stylized musical numbers catch you off guard. It’s pure fun!!

Check out this clip and interview:

And here’s a little teaser: the guy in the middle is “hiding” his sexuality from his working class father.

“Go to hell!” and “You’re going to hell!”—is there a difference?

May 5, 2010

You don’t often hear go to hell anymore. We’ve adopted a more culturally relevant repertoire of swear words having to do with sex and body parts. 

But telling someone to fuck off, though it might sound naughtier (something to do with “f” and “k” combination, I think), doesn’t seem quite as harsh as condemning someone to burn for eternity, does it? 

Most of us aren’t particularly bothered with the religious beliefs of others. And most of us women would have already been condemned by Leviticus or Mohammed simply for being modern. I’m pretty sure being a harlot (God, I love that word) and disobeying Father were once offences punishable by burning.

Thankfully, Old Leviticus has proven to be a bit of an embarrassment for many believers. And for those who take him too seriously, well, we have our own names for them.    

The gay-hating thing, though, does seem to linger, doesn’t it?  

But should it really bother someone, especially someone who does not live by a holy book, to be told their sexual behaviour means they’re going to hell—I mean other than that the fact that it’s so intellectually offensive?

And would it make much sense trying to have expressed religious beliefs about homosexuality labelled hate crime? I used to think so a little; but I don’t anymore.

Last time I checked, just like gay marriage, attending a church that doesn’t like you or that may claim to love you but not who you are isn’t mandatory. 

Recently, a British Christian preacher was arrested (for 10 minutes or so)  for sharing his views outside of his church about homosexuality as sin. A lesbian woman debating the priest outside the church took offense and reported him to some kind of community police and then the real police.

If, like me, you believe that hell has to do with a life full of fear and bitterness, stating this publically couldn’t possibly constitute a hate crime, right? So I figure religions should be allowed to say whatever silly things they want about people and let everyone vote with their feet. 

That is, as long as these types don’t get too near children or the halls of government. Ah, now there’s the pesky rub!   

I suppose if I were gay, it would be creepy to hear that I’m going to hell because of who I have sex with or for who I love. But I certainly wouldn’t be pounding on the doors of churches preaching medieval values and asking for understanding.

Don’t get me wrong; I respect the warriors fighting the powers within churches for change. But it’s their battle.  I prefer to fight mine within the much less dramatic rule of law and rules of argument. 

So go ahead and tell me I’m going to hell anytime you like; it’s meaningless to me, though I might cross the road quickly when I see you coming. I might even be capable of dredging up some compassion for the heavy burden of your insight.

But if you tell me to go to hell, now you’ve hurt me. You’ve brought it down to the land of the living, to the very human level of social friction that stabs and stings. 

No, I’m not bothered by a priest telling it loud and proud like Leviticus did. 

The good news is that we never have to meet—at least not here on Earth. 

Here’s Bertrand Russell’s take on hell:

      The infliction of cruelty with a good conscience is a delight to moralists. That is why they invented Hell.

 Now isn’t there something specifically hellish about cruelty with a good conscience?

It smites the soul like nothing else!